When Retail Traffic asked Baltimore-based architecture firm RTKL Associates to imagine the future of the shopping mall, we thought we might get a response that only design aficionados would love. What will usurp neo-traditional styling? Will malls be clad in blinding titanium or some interesting acrylic? But RTKL surprised us.

Instead of focusing solely on bricks and mortar, the architects took today's consumer trends and extrapolated how we will shop. According to RTKL, for example, consumers' desire for greater convenience will influence new retail. So will attitude — RTKL foresees retailers clustering according to their lifestyle, not their price point.

Architecture follows from these new shopping patterns. Because consumers are looking for greater convenience, the architects of RTKL envision one scenario in which vertical mixed-use development is predominant. Not exactly futuristic, the architects point out, but a radical change from how Americans have “done” shopping over the last two generations.

Of course, they also described some of the design trends that will affect how this shopping is built, too. The increasing use of “green,” or ecologically conscious, design elements means that shopping centers may someday sport wind farms, photovoltaic arrays, wastewater recycling systems and natural lighting and ventilation. If some of these ideas strike you as impossible, such as a mall that can produce its own energy, others are just around the corner: In the case of the “matrix consumer,” for example, who hasn't been lectured about the importance of psychographics?